The Trail Went Cold – Episode 7 – Judy Smith

On April 9, 1997, Judy Smith, a 50-year old wife and mother from Newton, Massachusetts, decided to accompany her husband, Jeff, on a business trip to Philadelphia. The following day, Judy set out to do some sightseeing in the city while her husband attended a conference. When Jeff returned to their hotel that night, Judy was not there and she could not be found anywhere in the city. Five months later, Judy’s skeletal remains would be discovered in a mountainous area… 600 miles away in North Carolina! The evidence indicated foul play, but eyewitness sightings seemed to suggest that Judy had traveled to the area voluntarily. Did Judy take an impromptu 600-mile trip without telling her family and if so, how did she wind up dead in the Appalachian Mountains? Join me for a new episode of “The Trail Went Cold”, as I analyze the truly baffling unexplained death of Judy Smith.

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The Trail Went Cold is produced and edited by Magill Foote.

All music is composed by Vince Nitro.

13 thoughts on “The Trail Went Cold – Episode 7 – Judy Smith

  • This is a great episode! Thank you.

    I think you’re right that the only explanation that really seems to cover the evidence is that she met up with someone, probably in Philadelphia, and went with that person to North Carolina, where probably the same person who brought her there killed her. The fact that she didn’t buy a ticket on a bus or airplane, and didn’t stay at any hotels near Asheville seems to prove that, because she rode there in someone’s car and stayed at their house. And it does seem like the most likely connection she had with this stranger was romantic in nature.

    As far as your objection that Judy wouldn’t have gone away with someone without telling her children, that doesn’t seem like that weighty of a problem, especially given how well the rest of the theory lines up with the facts that we have. There are all kinds of explanations for it. Maybe Judy wasn’t planning to be away for very long, so she didn’t bother to inform them. Or maybe (and I tend to think this is the real reason) she was going through some kind of mid-life or emotional crisis, which caused her to go away with a stranger in the first place, and just wasn’t thinking that clearly. She was about at the age where people tend to have a mid-life crisis sometimes, and was only five months into a marriage that she didn’t like that much, and maybe was in a vulnerable emotional state.

    I think she ran into someone in a bar or some public place who figured out that she was an easy mark, and knew how to play on her emotions to get her to come out to North Carolina. They say that Ted Bundy was a master at getting women to fall in love with him so he could victimize them, and I think she ran into someone with a similar set of talents.

    What a sad story.

    • Thanks for listening. Glad you enjoyed the episode. This is a good analysis and I believe the mid-life crisis theory has some merit and would explain a lot of Judy’s actions. Still curious why she would still make the trip to Philadelphia after separating from her husband at the airport instead of just going straight down to North Carolina.

  • Very interesting case and great episode. There seems to be some missing info in her case. Did she ever purchase a tour in Philadelphia? Seems this would have been noted. How did the lady in NJ pay for the dresses (assuming some were purchased)? As I listened my thought was she had a nervous breakdown or stroke that left her functioning enough to get where her confused mind wanted to take her, but your episode now has me thinking otherwise. She met somebody who won her trust and did her harm. I might have missed it, but was her cause of death determined?

    • Hi Michael, thanks for listening. I double-checked my sources and I think I can answer your questions…

      1. Judy was planning to use the Phlash, a Philadelphia bus service that takes people through the major tourist sights. A driver did recall picking her up and dropping off her sometime in the early afternoon, but I’m not sure if she took the full-fledged tour.

      2. I don’t believe the lady NJ believed to be Judy actually purchased the dresses, she just inquired about them and then left the store after the awkward situation with the woman she thought was her daughter.

      3. While Judy’s remains were skeletal, they found puncture marks in her clothing which indicated stab wounds, so there’s little doubt she was murdered.

  • Hi, I just found your podcast and am making my way through the past episodes.

    I think that Judy may have been suffering from undiagnosed early-onset dementia. It could be why she forgot her driver’s license that morning. While on the sightseeing tour, she might have become disoriented and wandered away, or even have gotten onto the wrong bus. When she was seen at the store, I think the “shopping for dresses” story was a narrative that she formed for herself to explain where she was and what she was doing, since she didn’t know what was going on. That would also explain why she thought the stranger was her daughter, as it fit into the narrative she was using.

    I think she at some point in her confusion, she latched onto the memories of the previous vacation to North Carolina, and suddenly the fact that she’s traveling makes sense to her; she’s simply taking a trip to NC, that’s why she’s on the road. Which is why she was so “cheerful” when she interacts with the other store clerk.

    Ultimately, I think someone saw that she was vulnerable, maybe she became obviously disoriented again and her killer took advantage of that to take her into the mountains.

    • That’s a good theory. While I explored the idea of a mental breakdown, I never thought about the possibly of dementia since Judy was only 50 years old. But you’re right, that would explain so much of her behaviour.

      • I agree she got on the wrong tour bus at some point and just ended up in NC. I don’t think there was a companion or anything as such, just pretty simple, she got turned around went with it, was thinking of her daughter even, and decided she would go site seeing, perhaps call Jeff later. Her being stabbed is terrible, but this could just happen to anyone especially if you were out somewhere alone w/out others hiking or site seeing in the same area. What a terrible sad case.

  • The problem with the dementia theory is that it seems unlikely that it could develop in a few hours, and if she was already suffering from it I doubt her husband would have felt comfortable letting her wander around unaccompanied.

    What I’d like to know is whether she actually flew to Philadelphia. The police belief that she might have been murdered at home suggests that they could not find records of her catching the plane – or they didn’t really bother looking. Perhaps she deliberately ‘forgot’ her driving licence so she could meet someone and that person drove her to Philadelphia.

    • Yes, if Judy was developing dementia, then I doubt her family would have known about it since they never said anything. That’s interesting observation about the flight to Philly. I know the Philadelphia P.D. were suspicious of Jeff at first, but I don’t think I ever found a confirmation anywhere if they checked to see if Judy’s name was on the record for any later flights.

  • This was another great podcast. It is a very baffling mystery. It made me remember another odd disappearance. It was featured on the show “Disappeared”. Amber Gerwick, who was from Georgia, disappeared one day and ended up in Joliet, Illinois. She had no idea of how she got there, or who she was. She was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia and had been in a fugue state for some time. After reading the post about onset dementia and remembering what you said about her appearing confused, I thought perhaps she had been in a fugue state. Fugue states are temporary (they can last hours, days or months) but the symptoms involve unexpected sudden travel, confusion about personal identity, and significant stress or impairment. I posit this as part of the explanation of what happened based on the available evidence. As for her death, that’s the other half of this very baffling and disturbing mystery. I hope this case is solved on day.

    • Thanks. Never considered the possibility of dissociative amnesia, but that’s another plausible explanation and probably makes a bit more sense than a 50-year old woman getting dementia. It would be an unfortunate coincidence if she just happened to travel to another location and cross paths with a murderer.

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